Think of plug-in hybrids and you’ll probably think of cars like the 2012 Chevrolet Volt or 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.  But plug-in hybrid army tanks?

They might just be closer than you think. 

Enter the U.S. Army, and its latest prototype test vehicle, a fully-amored plug-in vehicle. 

Called the FED Bravo, the trial vehicle was made by the same firm responsible for FED Alpha -- a gas-sipping, military-spec HMMWV hybrid with solar panels -- and has just finished the first part of its testing at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren, Michigan. 

While there’s some doubt over what type of military vehicle the FED Bravo is, the U.S. army has confirmed that this vehicle plugs into the mains to recharge its on-board battery pack. It has also said that the vehicle features a ‘road-coupled hybrid-electric drivetrain’, which strongly suggests it is a plug-in hybrid wheeled vehicle rather than a tracked tank. 

For the U.S. military, hybrid and plug-in hybrid drivetrains not only help improve the military’s green image, but also dramatically reduce fuel consumption and improve operational capabilities in the battlefield. 

2003 GM Army hybrid concept

2003 GM Army hybrid concept

And with the original military-spec HMMWV returning around 14 miles-per-gallon on the highway, it’s no wonder TARDEC is trying to improve fuel economy by 70 percent. 

In fact, the U.S. army has been working on hybrid military vehicles for some time, with armies all over the world already developing hybrid tracked tanks for use in the battlefield.

If it achieves TARDEC’s goals, the FED Bravo will achieve a fuel economy as high as 23.8 mpg. 

Over the course of a 350 mile trip -- the range of the original HHMWV’s 25-gallon fuel tank -- the improved vehicle could save the U.S. Army could just over 10 gallons of fuel per vehicle. Or if you prefer, it could improve the range of the HHMWV to 595 miles on the same 25 gallon tank. 

Spread the same result over thousands of military vehicles both on and off the battlefield, and the savings are huge. 

That’s good for everyone, as lower running costs for vehicles mean military budgets can be spent on other things, like improved body armor for frontline soldiers.

What does it mean for the civilian car-buying public? 

At the moment, not much -- but military technology that can improve the fuel economy of a 5,200+ pound armored vehicle by 70 percent will no doubt trickle into the mainstream automotive world in the next few years, bringing plug-in hybrid technology within easy grasp of even the largest SUV and heavy-duty pickup trucks. 


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